I vividly remember my first 400-meter hurdle race at the collegiate level. I remember the bright stadium lights, the spongy red track, and the surge of adrenaline and nausea I'd come to expect before every race. But most of all, I remember that you weren't there, because, for the first time in my life, I was racing 1,000 miles away from home.
I'd never raced without you in the crowd.
Somehow, in the midst of pastoring a growing church, teaching at the seminary, and pursuing a doctorate, you were at every single one of my pre-college track meets, starting with the all-city meet when I was in 5th grade.
|Dad calling someone with the results from one of my high school meets|
You made sure I had gatorade and snacks before the meet and then watched me warm-up from the sidelines. When it came time for my race you positioned yourself on the home stretch where you knew I would hurt the most. I'd round that final curve with vomit rising, breathing labored, muscles screaming in pain, and ears utterly deaf to the shouting stadium-crowd. All I heard was you, cheering:
"COME ON, SARAH JACKSON!!!!"
There was never a college race when I didn't remember those words urging me through pain and drowning out hundreds of other voices.
Now that my track days are over and I'm learning what it is to battle loss and discouragement in this life-race toward an eternal prize, I find myself remembering your voice shouting my name.
You've helped me understand the fierce and tender love of God the Father as I run toward my heaven-home, Dad.
Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that the God who sculpted the mountains and breathed the stars in the sky even knows my name, much less calls it. Sometimes it's hard to believe he's the God-who-sticks close—that he will provide for my needs and wants to be intimately involved with my life.
But when I remember the way you bought me the expensive sets of track shoes I needed each year; or the way you'd make me a big lunch before track meets and give me a timely pep talk; or the way you'd take time off work, drive hours and hours, and book hotels for my out-of-town meets, my little heart gulps big from the glimpses you've given me of Father God's heart. If he is infinitely more good than you, how much more must he love me?
|Dad hugging me after a race|
My senior year of high school I had lofty ambitions for the state track meet. Month after month you watched me pour myself into training for my senior season. You watched me work and worry, and work some more.
And then one day a reporter called the house to interview you about my season and you told him something I'll never forget:
"We delight in Sarah, whether she runs fast or not."
If there is one thing about God that my heart often struggles to believe it's that he delights in me, just the way I am.
But for 31 years you have delighted in me, Dad, slowly teaching me that when God calls himself Father he means he takes joy and pleasure in me, and in being my Papa.
You taught me this when you'd scoop my little girl self into your arms and spin and bounce me back to my bedroom at bedtime; when you laughed deep and pleased at my girlish attempts to crack jokes; and when, after a long day at work, you'd wrestle with us kids on the living room floor and tickle us till we were breathless from laughter.
|Dad and I in SoCal, checking out colleges my senior year of high school|
As I grew older I saw the way your delight in me impelled you to protect and care for me.
You showed me my value when you warned my first boyfriend that if he ever did anything disrespectful to me he'd have you to face. My heart still surges with gratitude when I remember that.
You showed me I can rest in your care when you outfitted my kitchen with new appliances four years ago because I was too sick to do it myself, and then bought me flowers for my beloved patio when you visited last year. I smile with satisfaction every time I water them.
|At the beach|
|One of my favorite pictures: after college graduation|
I know, though, that the greatest gratitude I can express for you is not strings of symbols on a blank page: what you yearn for most is that I would live a life devoted to God, the greatest and truest Father.
When I left home for college nine years ago you gave me a necklace with a delicate gold heart pendant. You also wrote an accompanying letter expressing your love for me and your hope that I would always say yes to Jesus. You closed the letter with a postscript:
"I hope you always entrust the human version of the enclosed gift to our Father in heaven. 'Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life' (Proverbs 4:23)."
I wear that heart necklace often, and when I do I try to center my heart on the Father in heaven whose love, amazingly, eclipses yours.
And when this life-race wearies and daunts me, I imagine Him cheering me on through doubt and despair toward victory over pain: his voice the only one I can hear amidst the din of other voices.
Thank you for teaching me to listen for His voice and trust His heart, Dad.
I love you.
Happy Father's Day,
Your Sarah Christine
© by scj